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An ethnography of housing : public housing work in Victoria

Chalkley, Tony 2012, An ethnography of housing : public housing work in Victoria, Ph.D thesis, School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning, RMIT University.

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Title An ethnography of housing : public housing work in Victoria
Author Chalkley, Tony
Institution RMIT University
School School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning
Degree type Research doctorate
Degree name Ph.D
Thesis advisor Dalton, Tony
Watts, Rob
Date submitted 2012-03-12
Keyword(s) public housing
ethnography
‘wicked’ problems
housing work
organisational change
communication
restructure
tenants
mental health
social change
Summary This thesis examines the everyday practices of housing officers working in the Victorian Office of Housing, a large public sector statutory authority providing rental housing to low–income households. Housing officer work has changed substantially associated with the shift from the provision of ‘public housing’ in the post–WWII period to the provision of ‘welfare housing’ from the early 1980s. These changes are evident in both the formal organisation of work and day–to–day practices. The principal research question addressed is ‘How has the work of staff in the Victorian Office of Housing changed as a consequence of the shift from the provision of ‘public housing’ in the post–WWII period to the provision of ‘welfare housing’ from the early 1980s?’

This question is addressed by presenting an historically informed ethnography of the Office of Housing. Research was undertaken over a twelve–month period through interviews, participant observation and the collection of documents. The data collected through the use of these methods provided the basis for the presentation of ‘thick descriptions’ of the work of staff employed to provide rental housing to low–income households.

The research into this large hierarchical formal organisation was undertaken in three offices: a local suburban office, a regional office and head office. This enabled connections and tensions in direct service delivery work and policy work to be identified and analysed. It revealed that the experience of the shift from the provision of public housing to the provision of welfare housing has not been uniform and underscores the importance of understanding organisations as socially constructed.

Staff work was analysed by distinguishing four overarching problems consistently referred to by staff and highlighted in formal reviews. First, ‘problems with tenants’ refers to the changing profile of tenants and staff responses and interactions. Second, the ‘problem with rent’ centres on setting and collecting rents from very low–income tenants. Third, the ‘problem with housing standards and assets’ focuses on housing quality, maintaining properties and the tenant use of properties. Fourth, the ‘problems with the organisation’ are found in the constant searching for the best ways of defining roles, leading and communicating within a large and geographically distributed organisation. These are the features of work which present dilemmas for those who seek to produce better services for households who live in public housing.
Notes A thesis submitted in fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, RMIT University
Language eng
Field of Research 160403 Social and Cultural Geography
160104 Social and Cultural Anthropology
Socio Economic Objective 940204 Public Services Policy Advice and Analysis
Copyright notice ©The author
Free to Read? Yes
Use Rights Creative Commons Attribution licence
Persistent URL http://hdl.handle.net/10536/DRO/DU:30049339

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Created: Fri, 02 Nov 2012, 14:39:27 EST by Tony Chalkley

Every reasonable effort has been made to ensure that permission has been obtained for items included in DRO. If you believe that your rights have been infringed by this repository, please contact drosupport@deakin.edu.au.